As with many inventions, the French Press was an accidental design caused by a Frenchman who forgot to add coffee grounds to his boiling water as was the method in the 1800’s. Boiling water required staring a wood fire so to conserve his resources he added his coffee to the water already boiled. It floated to the top so he used a screen and pressed the grounds to the bottom discovering the flavor was much better than the old method.
But leave it to the Italians to make a better mousetrap, in 1929 Attilio Calimani patented the first design of the French Press and it was further refined by another Italian Faliero Bondanini.
The French call the French Press “cafetiere a piston” or piston coffee maker. In the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands it is known as cafetiere, the word for coffee maker or pot in French.
Consisting of a narrow cylindrical beaker made of either clear glass or plastic the French Press is a plunger style coffee maker with a plunger made of metal or plastic snugly fitting in the cylinder with a mesh filter at the bottom. Its elegant and simple design lends itself to serving after dinner coffee at the table. It’s always a bit of drama pressing the plunger and pouring the thick, delicious coffee.
A course grind is needed for this method and the coffee is brewed by placing the grounds in the beaker, pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Press the plunger and the grounds are filtered to the bottom of the beaker leaving you with a rich cup of coffee.
This method of brewing retains the essentials oils from the beans delivering more of the coffee’s flavor. It is usually a stronger and thicker coffee with more sediment than traditional drip-brewing which uses paper filters. After 20 minutes the coffee is considered to have expired as it can become bitter if not enjoyed right away.
French Presses are portable and there are versions on the market made in travel cups. Hikers also enjoy this method of brewing to take with them on their adventures.